Introduction to Tagalog Grammar and Verbal Aspect in Tagalog

A Tagalog course in Italian based on the book “Conversational Tagalog” by Teresita Ramos
My journey with the Tagalog language started with this course…. the only material available here back in 2001

In this post I am going to cover the basics of the Tagalog grammar.

The reason why I am including this kind of posts in my blog is because from time to time I need to brush up my knowledge of the Tagalog grammar and, in so doing, I also share it with anyone who may be interested in learning this language, like some Western guy married to a Filipina for example.

I must give credit to a couple of sources that have greatly helped me to grasp the grammar of my wife’s native language: “Conversational Tagalog” by Teresita Ramos and the website


Learning Tagalog is almost like playing with Lego blocks, as the seemingly long words are, in reality, the result of the combination of a root word and one or more affixes: English speakers are already familiar with this concept because in English a number of words are formed by adding an affix to a root word. For example the root word beauty can be combined with ful to form the adjective beautiful. Take for example the Tagalog root word ganda (that conveys the idea of beauty): if you combine it with the affix ma– you form the adjective maganda or beautiful; if you combine it with –um– (between the first consonant and the first vowel) you form the verb gumanda and if you put the prefix ka– before the root word and the suffix –an after it you form the noun kagandahan. As I said, it is almost like playing with Legos and putting the pieces together: depending on the affix that you stick to the root word you can form an adjective, a verb or a noun A root word is simply a basic, core word that can be used to make other words. This is the starting point to understand the structure of the Tagalog language and what I can say is that I’ve found out that the structure of Tagalog is much easier than that of most Western languages, especially when you are learning verbs, speaking of which….


Another aspect that made it relatively easy, at least for me, to learn Tagalog is that there is only one kind of past tense, present tense or future tense not many like in Italian for example. Technically those are not even called “tenses” but rather “verbal aspects” because they only convey the idea that a certain action has been accomplished, is being accomplished or is being “contemplated” but they give no clue as to “when” it has been accomplished or will be accomplished. For example the verb “bumasa” (to read) has the following aspects: Bumasa ako ng aklat=I have read the book (the action has been accomplished, it doesn’t tell you the when) Bumabasa ako ng aklat=I am (in the process of) reading the book Babasa ako ng aklat=I have the intention to read it, I am contemplating the idea of reading it but I am not communicating when in the future I will do it (unless I use a time expression like bukas=tomorrow etc).

A nice way to illustrate the difference between a tense and the verbal aspect is the example of the boss of a company and the secretary (which I’ve found on the Tagalog page of the official website of the department of Asian studies of the University of Illinois): the boss of a company is only concerned with whether his employee has done his job or not, the secretary is concerned with when the employee did his job because she has to calculate the amount of his paycheck. Similarly the verbal aspect only communicates if a certain action has been done or not while a tense communicates when the action has taken place or will take place.

If I say something like binasa ko ang aklat (I read the book) that expression simply tells me that I did the action of reading the book, it could have happened one moment ago, yesterday, one year ago, 20 years ago. If I say babasahin ko ang aklat I am stating my intention to read the book: it could happen in 5 minutes or 5 years. So, in order to give the listener a clue about the when Filipinos need time expressions like kanina (earlier), kahapon (yesterday), ngayon (today), mamaya (later), bukas (tomorrow) and many others. In my language (Italian) not only do we have tenses but we have plenty of them, 21 to be specific. We have 8 tenses in the indicative mode, 4 in the subjunctive, 2 in the conditional, one in the imperative, 2 in the infinitive, 2 in the participle and 2 in the gerund, imagine that!


Filipinos often use either ng or na to connect two words, usually an adjective and a noun. If the word that appears before the linker ends with a vowel they use ng, if it ends with a consonant they use na like in the following two examples: Masamang kalagayan (bad situation) Mahirap na kalagayan (difficult situation) So, in the first example, because masama ends with a vowel I used ng, while after mahirap that ends in a consonant, I used na. The same applies when you are linking two numbers like: Limang daan Apat na raan


The first time I heard numbers like labingisa or isang daan at labindalawa etc. I wondered “how am I possibly going to learn this stuff”? In reality, if you are interested in learning numbers in Tagalog, all you really need to memorize are the numbers from one to ten being: isa dalawa tatlo apat lima anim pito walo siyam sampu. Then, the numbers from 11 to 19 are really easy because all you need to do is add labin to the numbers you’ve already learned: 11=labingisa 12=labindalawa and so on. Then, as for the numbers 20, 30, 40 etc. they all end like 10 or sampu: Dalawampu Tatlumpu and so on Between 20, 30, 40 etc. you just add ‘t isa, ‘t dalawa etc.: Example: 21=dalawampu’t isa 22=dalawampu’t dalawa ….. 51=limampu’t isa And so on As for the “hundreds” you just have to learn …ng daan (except for apat and other numbers that end in a consonant where you’ve got na raan) the pattern is: Isang daan Dalawang daan …. Apat na raan ….. Anim na raan Then for higher numbers you add: Libo=1000 Milyon Bilyon And so on.


Generally, in order to turn a singular noun into a plural, Filipinos add the word mga between the markers ang and ng and the noun like in the following examples: “Ang mga Pilipino ay umiinom ng gin” meaning “Filipinos drink gin” (which is true, by the way) and the focus is on the actors. “Iniinom ng mga Pilipino ang gin” meaning the same thing the focus being on the object So, when you find the little word “mga” between the marker and the noun that indicates that the noun is in the plural number. This means for example that if you go to a Filipino party don’t just bring ang isang bote (one bottle), rather always bring ang mga bote (ng gin)…..


In Tagalog there is no such thing as the verb to be. You will often come across expressions like: ako ay Pilipino. Well, that doesn’t literally translate as “I am Filipino”. That is just an inverted form of Pilipino ako where ay simply inverts the order in the sentence. Well, this blog is mainly about how to have a thriving marriage with a Filipina but, from time to time I also like to talk about the Tagalog language and grammar. I started doing it in the past a little randomly and so in some future articles I will cover this kind of material in a more systematic way….and in so doing I’ll review the Tagalog grammar myself since I haven’t been doing it for quite a while…

4 thoughts on “Introduction to Tagalog Grammar and Verbal Aspect in Tagalog

    1. Filipinos are very family-oriented and are deeply attached to their extended family so, in order to build rapport with my spouse’s kin-group I need to be fluent in their native language and all the more so because my mother-in-law lives with us.
      It wasn’t easy for me to carve out time to learn Tagalog because my life is way too busy but, somehow, I made it…. thanks for your comment and have a nice day


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